I love the film Groundhog day, anything Bill Murray is in is usually fantastic and it is a great story of redemption and self realisation. Watching it again with my daughters last night it also really rang a bell with me is respect of development in martial arts.
Bill Murray is self centred, vain and more concerned about what the world thinks of him than anything else. When he fails, he is able to bury it inside himself and move on to the next audience. Over the years I have seen many people come and go in wing chun with this approach to the art. It's a chance to show off, talk the talk and when they fail they have a miraculous ability to pretend it did not happen (there is usually an excuse). When they succeed, the ego is not satisfied and the spiral continues. Why is this? Something to do with low self esteem and ego.
The next step is a realisation that something is missing, an aknowledgement that the audience might be more impressed with a demonstration of deeper knowedgle. In the film Bill Murray learns a few french poems, he says what he guesses are the right things to impress the girl, but his eventual failure is obvious because it is skin deep. In wing chun terms this happens when someone discovers the internal/relaxed side of the art. It is so easy to use the words, to wear the virtual clothes of an internal practitioner, but without putting in the practice it is ultimately hollow if there is nothing to back it up. Once exposed very soon you see these people returning to online name calling, blaming and generally showing themselves in their true light.
The final step is a realisation of who you are and what you have. The only audience you have to satisfy is yourself. For every wrong thing you have done, for each empty technique you have learned, you will need to spend time undoing them. Here we have a true inroad to internal ability. Instead of doing things for the sake of it or because of habit, you respond with your true natural instinct. Failure is seen as a learning opportunity; fellow class mates and students are seen as partners and not victims. Humility is not a badge worn but an understanding and acceptance of your own ability.
In the film Bill Murray fails thousands of times before he finds redemption. He finally stops trying to be something and sees what was always there in the first place. There is no shortcut to understanding wing chun, the human body is immensely powerful but we fetter it with stress and poor habits of movement. The first step to improving is finding a quietness, time for the body to settle. Just stop, let the ego drop and see what is possible. Reckless people rarely question themselves and are victims to their own prejudices and habits (and consequently need fighting skills to get them out of trouble).
A legitimate question you might ask about this is what has it got to do with a fighting art. The answer is choice; instead of being a victim to circumstances and your own habits you can choose how to deal with situations as they really are and not as your ego might perceive. With a more mindful approach to training a clarity starts to appear where you see past your habits and the movements of others, with this a knowledge how and when to act becomes clearer and removes the need for many of the techniques which others crave.
Most people struggle with balance, even whilst standing still. They lean on one leg, hitch the hip and alternatively shift around to feel comfortable. Fighting the pull of gravity is an endless battle if you are not balanced correctly and will ultimately lead to a misaligned spine and some muscles in a state of constant strain. Before we start to kick, to move even, the Sil Lim Tao (SLT) form is our chance to stand still and renegotiate our relationship with gravity.
Kicking in wing chun requires a firm grasp of the lessons of SLT. Without this you risk either weak and uncommitted stabbing movements, or over committed lunges. A big question to ask is why do most videos you see of wing chun not show kicking, is it because it is secret, or seen as unnecessary; I do not think so. The problem lies with the double edged sword which is wing chun's prime asset but main hindrance to development - chi sau. The blind alley of competitive chi sau means any ideas of a practical fighting art gets lost in the game. For most it is a game of arm sensitivity and pushing and pulling; kicking does not fit into that paradigm. You may find some mention of chi gerk on the Internet, translated as sticking legs, this is nonsense invented by or for western practitioners who have no concept of wing chun. If you practice proper competitive kicking without protection at wing chun range, after a few weeks you training career will be over. The power and speed of consecutive good kicks cannot be blocked successfully at close range and you will end up training pulled kicks instead. In reality we are aiming to damage knees, break bones or turn ankles, unless you are a professional athlete it is difficult to train to condition these areas. Another problem is a habit of many wing chun teachers in the UK who purposefully lean back when practicing the SLT form, which leads to a locked pelvis which is incapable of balanced powerful kicks.
Tips for good kicking techniques:
1. Think of the pelvis and hips in the same way as your shoulder girdle. By this I mean instead of contracting and pulling up the thigh muscles let them go so the leg can freely rotate and hang from the socket. Actively send a message to let go of the muscles in the front of the thigh.
2. Practice swinging the leg back and forth, you never lift the leg, you rotate it in the socket and allow the muscles to release to their natural length.
3. Maintain a straight spine; a connection from the tailbone to the top of the spine which always aligns with gravity.
4. When you kick do not lean back, you are losing balance and transferring your mass away from the target.
5. Ideally keep the kicking foot pointed to the target and allow the knee to rotate slightly outwards, this protects the groin from counter strikes.
6. A step and a kick are interchangeable. You are committing to moving your centre of gravity so ideally go with it to maintain you balance.
7. When you step or kick, get a feel of your centre of balance in your torso travelling over your pelvis as you rotate over your thigh bones.
8. When you land a kick allow the arc of travel to drop at the destination so your weight drops on the target. A rising leg will affect your balance if the target moves.
9. A good kick is not a push, it is a release. Most kicks which fail do so because the kicker is effectively unable to deal with their own power on contact, they push themselves back and loose balance. Exactly the same as when you punch incorrectly.
10. Keep your standing foot flat on the floor. Do not straighten the leg but allow it to flex so the body can absorb pressure.
11. Pivot from your centre to provide extra power.
12. Keep you feet and ankles relaxed. Pushing with your foot on contact will tense up the muscle chain and lock your pelvis.
In Chu Shong Tin wing chun our internal practice methods are there to help develop our power, the forms and training exercises are there to show how to practically deliver that power and chi sau helps us learn to use that power under pressure (when someone else is trying to stop you or to do it to you). The power of the kick is in you already, a release of tensions and series of rotations of your body mass. Extra effort actually takes you away from this.
Kicking is easy, kicking powerfully is easy, but kicking with power and balance is much more difficult. It is not about flexibility as we aim to strike below the waist, but being supple is important.. and for the we return to relaxation as our best friend.
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